This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
josh lewis’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
the craig era ends with something of a strange, sobering mirror image of its own inception. so let's start from the beginning. it was clear almost immediately in Casino Royale why craig was special in this role; there was a cool, blunt-force quality to his physical presence and demeanor while on the job that at all times felt like it was just barely stitching over a more vulnerable woundedness you could see in his blue eyes. he brought an animalistic brutality and emotional instability that was a perfect match for movie about a man who has been systematically broken down into a blunt, uncaring murder tool for the state, and who happens to learn to truly feel again just in time for his testicles to be smashed and heart broken. ultimately that heartbreak being absorbed into the process of the ugly line of work, forcing him to be even more committed to it.
it was read at the time i think by most as a grim statement on where bond, the killing machine in a nice suit and charming smirk, came from instead of where he was going. so, whether you really felt that monumental loss (personally i think craig and green are so good i get misty-eyed just thinking about it), and whether you bought into the way this franchise subsequently serialized those melancholy feelings and weaved them into its narrative and thematic concerns i think will decide in advance for you whether this works or doesn't. luckily for me the entire craig bond project (even the flawed ones) has been a worthwhile one.
the stylistically frantic and fractured depiction of bond’s rage (the camera barely able to contain it) in Quantum of Solace, that operates from moment-to-moment as a lean, unstoppable, chaotic revenge train. an oil drum that’s been primed and sparked by the death of vesper. the gorgeous digital approximation of old-fashioned spectacle meets new expressive, psychologically-engaged somberness of Skyfall that traces his pain as not just an inevitability of making state murder your surrogate family (a choice equated in the movie to being forcefully turned into a cannibal rat) but an inherent part of being good at that line of work. even Spectre which carried with its continuation of Skyfall’s ideas of bond as outmoded relic i think has more value than given credit for as it extends those dour, repressed feelings with a rumination on whether life outside the desolate haunted wasteland (filled with all the bodies that he’s left in the dumpsters of previous entries) is possible given all the messy, collateral damage. and more importantly for this film introduces lea seydoux’s madeline (maybe an unpopular opinion idk but i liked her quite a lot in both films), the only person who can truly love him warts and all like vesper did because she also has a past, her tragedy being that she's a bit too familiar with the carnage and double lives of murderers.
i don’t blame anyone who doesn’t but i think for this film to hit the register its ambitiously aiming for you have to at least on some level have bought into this overarching emotional trajectory. that despite the obvious surface pleasures of these films they never intended on getting to the “fun” bond going on charming one-off adventures every few years, that Casino Royale was not an origin story but a painful reckoning with a character who is surrounded by death at every angle but is not himself allowed to die—an existential weariness and frustration not only experienced by james bond but at a certain point by craig himself (what was his wording again? “i’d rather slash my wrists?”) which i think metatextually deepens the performance, particularly in this film.
which brings us finally to No Time To Die. a genuine oddity in the franchise blockbuster landscape because not only is it allowed to end but it's almost constructed as a funeral. it’s as big and expensive as one could hope with fukunaga the xbox junkie delivering plenty of gorgeously-composed, propulsive setpieces involving: gorgeous location work, spinning cameras, cybernetic eyeballs, tactical running and gunning, bodies crushed by cars, multiple surprise bombs, huge stunts, magnets and nanobots and gatling gun headlights, a lair that combines eastern minimalism with the texture of a wet concrete missile silo and insane moments of action choreography experienced in dirty handheld POV images/cameras attached to moving objects. the rich, inky colors of the cuba sequence are amazing, craig shooting the windshield of a flipping car in a single dolly pan across a foggy norwegian forest is so sick, thank you cary. the first hour alone is wall-to-wall on-the-job bond taking a victory lap on all the skills and instincts he was forced to develop over the course of the films but still in many ways is thrilled by when he gets to apply them. craig is a joy in these sequences—his facial expressions when ana d starts adorably wilding out on goons in the bar are priceless.
the unfortunate part for bond is that those skills not only apply less to his personal life but are actively harmful to them, and the other film taking place alongside (and in some ways within) the espionage thrills is a bleak love story and an attempt to provide bittersweet catharsis to the inciting heartbreak of Casino Royale, a destination this film devotes much of its runtime to the logistics of getting to. the film of course throws in a complicated detail or two about how the seeing/experiencing the cruel violence of the world (especially as a child) can shape a person’s future and there’s some muddy villain writing to get there but the way the final stop this propulsive train ride is headed towards is woven into the fabric of craig’s bond is hugely effective imo. craig’s “i miss you” before his ears are shattered and instincts for killing and betrayal triggered is hard to watch, especially as already mentioned those instincts are a result of those very feelings. even on vacation he can’t help looking over his shoulder. (a feeling you sympathize with during a sad subplot involving his franchise-long friend felix; craig has always had great chemistry with wright and there’s an incredible use of billy magnussen’s off-putting smile in that section of the movie.)
what follows for the majority of the film is those past feelings and characters now literally infecting his work and becoming indistinguishable from them, there’s no separating them much like the villain’s own nanobots from its targets which are literally designed to prey on the social, familial bonds of humanity. sequences of bond doing what he does best; performing as a one-man-army in violent espionage setpieces are done simply as a means of righting a wrong, trying through sheer effort and might (that the exhausting length and fukanaga’s simple, tactical sequencing actually heightens, that staircase oner is one of the better post-John Wick era action oners because of its stylistic focus is on the animalistic determination of bond; that part where he crawls under the body as a meatshield!!) to mold this mess he’s inadvertently created into something else. something hopefully better. its earnest and romantic qualities trying to beat out the darker, more regretful ones. all eventually culminating in a send-off for craig that is probably as moving as could’ve been conceived under the circumstances and thornier than it appears on its sappy surface.
bond is forced into a position that makes him not only understand vesper’s decision to kill herself instead of continue to hurt or take bond down with her toxic past life in Casino Royale but actually make that decision himself. the look on craig’s face is overwhelming when he realizes that by finishing the mission, by once again committing to the work (“i’ll just be a minute”), he has intentionally sacrificed so many years off a life he could’ve already had with madline and his child (and that we glimpsed in the joyous italy prologue before his own killer instincts are weaponized against him by blofeld to make him ruin his own life; when seydoux grabs her stomach on the train! jesus!) and has now made himself literally poisonous to both of them, confirming that the brief time he had with them in the few moments this movie slows down for is all he’ll ever get unless he takes them down with him. (the routine, anti-climactic way he finishes off malek in that moment right after like nothing else in the world matters is incredible as well, and i think speaks to the ultimate intent of his character as a confusing, distracting and destructive pest that is spycraft’s relationship to bond’s humanity. one of the first movies to put his weird alien mannerisms to intentionally creepy use as well.)
it’s such a brutal realization, one that bond ultimately accepts with grace as he finishes the job, climbs the ladder, and lets all these bittersweet feelings finally leak out of him like little blood drops on concrete as he stares welcomingly at his own demise. he finally sees why vesper made the choice that she did that hurt him so much, it was a sacrifice to give a loved one more time that you know you don’t have, and he now fully understands how painful and beautiful it was. it’s a fitting funeral to this version of the character who began his screen life avoiding those painful feelings and realizations by "escaping" into the ugly work of state-sanctioned murder. the man who has chosen to surround himself with death is finally allowed to be the one to die while everyone else is forced to watch (the characters and us), and i don’t think i’ve seen daniel craig look any happier.
“you have all the time in the world.”
“back to work.”